Green hydrogen could fill big gaps in renewable energy, PM and Chancellor clash on spending on environmental agenda ahead of key speech, and how asteroid dust may reveal secrets of life on Earth
Welcome to this week’s news roundup. As always we’ll be mixing it up - there’ll be some good news stories, some not so good news stories, and maybe some stories you won't have seen elsewhere!
Hope you enjoy!
Green Hydrogen Could Fill Big Gaps in Renewable Energy (Scientific American)
“When hydrogen burns, the only by-product is water—which is why hydrogen has been an alluring zero-carbon energy source for decades. Yet the traditional process for producing hydrogen, in which fossil fuels are exposed to steam, is not even remotely zero-carbon. Hydrogen produced this way is called gray hydrogen; if the CO2 is captured and sequestered, it is called blue hydrogen. Green hydrogen is different. It is produced through electrolysis, in which machines split water into hydrogen and oxygen, with no other by-products. Historically, electrolysis required so much electricity that it made little sense to produce hydrogen that way. The situation is changing for two reasons. First, significant amounts of excess renewable electricity have become available at grid scale; rather than storing excess electricity in arrays of batteries, the extra electricity can be used to drive the electrolysis of water, “storing” the electricity in the form of hydrogen. Second, electrolyzers are getting more efficient.”
“A community of 250 people on one of the most remote inhabited islands on Earth has made a significant contribution to marine wildlife conservation by banning bottom-trawling fishing, deep-sea mining and other harmful activities from its waters. The government of Tristan da Cunha, a volcanic archipelago in the south Atlantic and part of the UK’s overseas territories, has announced that almost 700,000 sq km of its waters will become a marine protected area (MPA), the fourth largest such sanctuary in the world. In doing so, the community will safeguard the area’s wealth of wildlife, including sevengill sharks, the globally threatened yellow-nosed albatross and Atlantic petrel, rockhopper penguins and other birds that live there, and help the UK government achieve its target of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.”
“Boris Johnson must immediately commit to a raft of fully-funded environmental policies if he hopes to be seen as “credible” on tackling the climate emergency, according to the government’s own advisory body. Lord Deben, who chairs the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC), told The Independent that a failure to act now would make it “much more expensive” for Britain to hit the legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050. Mr Johnson, in a long-awaited speech, is expected to announce that no new petrol or diesel cars can be sold as of 2030, bringing forward the date he set in February by five years. But environmental campaigners – warning the “climate clock is ticking” – urged the government to go further, and also scrap a multi-billion pound roads programme as part of the prime minister’s 10-point plan on reducing emissions.”
The not so good:
“Boris Johnson’s plans to relaunch his premiership with a blitz of announcements on combating climate change and the creation of tens of thousands of new green jobs are meeting stiff resistance from the cash-strapped Treasury, the Observer has been told. Senior figures in Whitehall and advisers to the government on environmental issues say negotiations on the content of a major environmental speech by the prime minister are still ongoing between No 10, the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy with just days to go before Johnson delivers the keynote address. The speech, containing a 10-point plan, has already been repeatedly delayed as government attention has been focused on the fight against Covid-19 and multibillion-pound measures by the Treasury to keep the economy and business afloat during the resulting economic crisis. On Thursday, however, the prime minister made clear his determination to press ahead with the speech, tweeting that it would be of historic importance and was imminent.”
“Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon increased in October for the first time in four months, government data showed on Friday, as destruction of the world’s largest rainforest remains high under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. In October, deforestation rose 50% from the prior year to 836 square kilometers (323 square miles), according to preliminary data from government space research agency Inpe. But monthly deforestation eased from its peak from July to September as the rainy season begins and makes logging difficult. Forest clearances are down 6% in the first ten months of 2020, compared to the same period a year ago, to 7,899 square kilometers, Inpe found. That’s roughly ten times the size of New York City.”
Groups fight to keep gray wolf protections for most of US (Associated Press)
“Wildlife advocates and environmental groups have announced that they are challenging the removal of federal protections for gray wolves across most of the U.S. Two coalitions of groups filed formal notices over the past several days that they plan to sue the U.S. Interior Department in federal court unless protections are restored. The notices are required as a precursor to lawsuits brought under the Endangered Species Act. The Trump administration last week finalized a decision that ends longstanding federal safeguards for gray wolves in the Lower 48 states except for a small population of Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest.”
And something a bit different:
“In a few days, a capsule containing samples of soil from a distant asteroid will be released by a robot spaceship and dropped into Earth’s upper atmosphere. If all goes well, the container will parachute safely on to the Woomera test range in South Australia on 6 December, completing a mission that has involved a three-billion-mile journey across our solar system. The information returned could help solve several major astronomical puzzles, say scientists – including the mystery of how water first appeared on our planet.
“Asteroids are the leftover building blocks from the formation of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago, and that makes them very important to science,” said Martin Lee, professor of planetary science at Glasgow University. “If you want to know what the planet was initially made of, you need to study asteroids.”
The Japanese probe Hayabusa 2 was launched six years ago and sent on a trajectory to the asteroid Ryugu which orbits the sun every 16 months at a distance of between 90 million and 131 million miles. For 18 months, it surveyed this 1,100-yard-wide lump of primordial rock before swooping close to its surface to collect a few scoops of soil. Then the probe fired its ion thrusters and began its year-long return to Earth.”